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Water works

Fort Berthold Reservation officials working to meet residents’ water needs

June 22, 2008
By ELOISE OGDEN, Regional Editor, eogden@minotdailynews.com
NEW TOWN – Water divides the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota. Yet getting that water from the Missouri River to reservation homes and businesses has been a long-time struggle for leaders of the Three Affiliated Tribes.


Many people on the reservation still haul their water for drinking and cooking.


Fort Berthold Rural Water, a program of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has the goal to bring good quality drinkable water from the Missouri River to people and businesses across the reservation, both Indian and non-Indian.


Marvin Danks, administrator of Fort Berthold Rural Water, said there’s a long list of water projects to be done across the reservation, and it’s just begun. He figures it will take 10 to 15 years to complete all the projects – if the funding to finance projects would remain at around $10 million to $15 million a year.


The money for water projects, though, has been small compared to the work needing to be done. In past years since 1986, (the date of the Garrison Reformulation Act) funding for the water projects has averaged about $1 million a year, said Danks and Felicia Felix, construction administrative assistant. The Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000 amended the 1986 act.


This year more money has come in, including $9.2 million from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for fiscal 2008.


“This is the first year we’ve ever seen this amount of money,” Felix said.


The breakdown of funding for the program includes $1.9 million operating and maintenance funds, and $580,000 tribal funds for projects.


On June 11, a ground breaking was held in Twin Buttes in the South Segment of the reservation for an approximately $1.2 million project of a storage tank for better storage capacity and a water line. The storage tank and water line in Twin Buttes are expected to be finished in mid-November.


A water project in Mandaree, in the West Segment of the reservation, will follow with a $2 1/2 million storage and distribution project.  Right now, they’re working on the easements and after that, construction will begin. The storage tank at Mandaree should be completed this year and at least 20 miles of distribution, maybe more,  should be done by freezeup, Danks said.


Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, either awarded or pending, also help with projects.


The Four Bears, Mandaree, Twin Buttes and White Shield communities, all on the Fort Berthold Reservation, have water treatment plants. Because of the low water levels of the Missouri River, the intakes for all four plants have been extended, Danks said.


Danks said a meeting in Bismarck last fall of the Dakota Resources Conference was beneficial to the tribe for obtaining this year’s funding. Tribal officials – Marcus Wells Jr., chairman, Barry Benson, Twin Buttes council representative and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Cami Gosnell, federal programs administrator, Damon Williams, a tribal attorney, and Danks – attended. Tribal representatives gave a presentation on the water needs of the reservation. Danks said they told the group “this is a trust responsibility” and the tribe has been waiting for water “for 55 or so years.” North Dakota’s congressional delegation also attended.


“BOR came through with $9.2 million in construction funds,” Danks said. The funds are for fiscal 2008.


Red River project


Because of the need for water projects to be finished on the Fort Berthold Reservation, Wells Jr., said the tribe does not support the Red River Valley Water Supply Project that would send Missouri River water to the Red River Valley. He said he and other tribal members have given testimony at hearings on their stand on that project.


“Our needs should be taken care of before any Missouri River water is sent to the Red River Valley or any other direction. Finish us first. This is something we’ve been waiting for, for 50 years,” Wells said.


“We don’t wish having no potable water on anybody, but this is a trust responsibility, a treaty obligation and settlement issue,” Wells said. “But at the same time, we want to help the Parshall community, the New Town community... all of us,” he said. In fact, he said every single resident, Indian and non-Indian, would be provided good, drinkable water under the Fort Berthold water plan.


“Then we would support going to the east. We’re already going to the west,” said Wells, referring to an agreement between the tribe and McKenzie County for rural water. “So that shows we want to help,  even though our members aren’t 100 percent (on the water system),” Wells said.


The tribe recently began paying $50 on the water bills of enrolled tribal members in the cities of New Town and Parshall. “We’ll continue to do it the rest of this year and next year,” Danks said. By that time, it is hoped an agreement will be in place with the Bureau of Reclamation, tribe and the two cities to provide water to those tribal members at no cost.


Council representative Mervin Packineau of Parshall is working with city officials there on a plan. “The way that’s going to shake out is the city of Parshall will get funding for the intake and the plant. Fort Berthold Rural Water will handle the distribution.” Danks said.


“We’ve come a long ways in the last six or seven months,” Danks said.


Currently, Danks said about 500 businesses and individuals on the reservation are connected to the Fort Berthold Rural Water system. The goal is to have at least 1,000 more businesses and individuals connected. Those numbers include everyone –  both tribal members and nontribal members.


As far as helping oil-field companies with water, Danks said, “Our plants are so taxed right now... we’re trying to help but it’s going to be very little.”


“We are thankful for the funding we’ve received this year, but it needs to continue for the next 10 to 15 years to complete all these projects. With this funding, we are just getting going,” he said.

Article Photos

Eloise Ogden/MDN --
The low level of Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River is quite apparent underneath the Four Bears Bridge west of New Town in this May photo.

 
 
 

 

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